THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Garnett to miss a couple of weeks with calf strain

By Gary Washburn and Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 31, 2010

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That brisk wind yesterday was the collective sigh of relief from Celtics fans who feared that Kevin Garnett would spend the rest of the season on the bench in a sweater vest and tie cheering his teammates while he recovered from yet another knee injury.

It certainly appeared that way Wednesday night when Garnett grabbed his right knee, fell to the floor of the Palace at Auburn Hills, and could barely rise under his own power.

But what the Celtics heard in the locker room at halftime of their 104-92 loss to the Pistons was confirmed yesterday: Garnett injured his calf muscle and could miss two weeks, according to team president Danny Ainge.

An MRI revealed no structural damage to a knee that has already been surgically repaired, just a calf strain, and Garnett is expected to return after this hiccup.

Instead of something that could alter the power structure of the Eastern Conference, the Celtics will simply have to deal with another injury to a significant contributor, though their depth is becoming increasingly thin.

“It’s the muscle outside of the leg below the knee,’’ Ainge told WEEI. “And it’s not anything to do with the knee, which is great news.

“He may be out for a couple of weeks at the most, I would say. That’s my guess. I’ll just say two weeks and I’d say that’s on the conservative side.’’

Still, for a team that has been holding the lineup together by a thread for two months, this development is frustrating.

“That’s the one thing that we say: stay healthy,’’ said Ray Allen. “It almost seemed like it was something that was bound to happen regardless of where he was. Nobody was around. It was just waiting to rear its head.’’

“It’s a wild thing that our team’s been hit pretty hard with injuries this year,’’ said Jermaine O’Neal. “Hopefully, it’s not that serious. He’s probably the most important part of our team.’’

The Celtics will be conservative with Garnett, given that the season is only 30 games old and they want their spiritual and defensive leader healthy for the stretch run.

They are fortunate the injury wasn’t worse, especially since Garnett appeared to be fighting off tears as he clutched the waist of trainer Ed Lacerte on the bench Wednesday night.

“Kevin is a very demonstrative and very emotional person,’’ Ainge said. “I was hoping that it wasn’t anything serious.

“I was actually at the game in Utah in the locker room when he initially hurt his leg [in 2009] and there were similar thoughts that went through my mind.’’

Instead of a major ailment, it is another nagging injury for a team that is likely leading the league in man-games missed.

Rajon Rondo has missed six games with a sprained left ankle and will be a game-time decision today against the Hornets. Jermaine O’Neal sat out six weeks with a sore left knee. Shaquille O’Neal missed nine games with knee and calf issues. Delonte West has missed 15 games with a broken right wrist. And Kendrick Perkins has yet to play after having offseason knee surgery.

Still, the Celtics enter today’s game with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Glen Davis, who has played starter’s minutes this season and excelled in Garnett’s absence last season, will start in Garnett’s place.

“My biggest fear is wearing Paul [Pierce] and Ray out right now,’’ Ainge said. “It’s going to be hard to maintain the same pace we’re at right now without Rajon and KG, but I think it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and see what they can do.’’

Ainge said he will not seek to obtain a power forward on the waiver wire because he does not want to release a player to accommodate such a move.

“Doc has a creative mind and he’ll figure some ways to find wins,’’ said Ainge.

Pierce, too, said the team will have to find a way to move forward without Garnett, for however long it takes.

“You’ve got to be numb to that stuff,’’ Pierce said. “That’s the ‘woe is me’ excuse. Injuries happen to every team, to a certain extent.

“So the guys that we have, this is an opportunity for them, and I hope they look at it like that. The guys who don’t play as much are going to have an opportunity, and it’s a good time to shine.’’

It will help that the schedule features 11 of the next 14 games at home, with matchups against Toronto (twice), Minnesota, Houston, Sacramento, Charlotte, Washington, and Cleveland. Last year, the Celtics managed to navigate a minefield of injuries and carry a healthy roster into the playoffs. This year has already been more troublesome.

“I don’t know,’’ said Davis. “Hopefully, when it’s time, come June, we’ll be healthy.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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